Thinking Differently About Membership Renewals Part 1



Original Author: JP Moery 

Associations have the incredible opportunity to remind their members how much they are valued and how the association can help them. Membership departments scrub contact lists, prepare renewal letters, and double-check the tools members need to renew. However, this annual process tempts associations to do the “same ole’ thing” as last year and the previous year.

Season’s greetings are lovely, of course, and blasting out thank-you emails seems essential. But does your message seem seasonally trite? It’s time to think differently about what you can do to shake up your association membership renewals.

What is your plan for personal outreach to members? What if you and your membership team looked at each member individually instead of the group? Who’s enrolled in your education? Who’s attending your events? Who is buying the products? Is each member company engaged with the committees or work groups that apply to their areas of interest and focus?

The decision for association membership renewals is not made when the invoice arrives. It’s based on how individuals or companies turn to the association throughout the year.

Taking the Mask Off Current Association Membership Benchmarks

In 2021, 47 percent of associations reported declines in membership. Membership renewals declined by 45 percent, almost double the amount from the previous year (24 percent). COVID undoubtedly had a significant negative impact, but these outcomes affected association budgets and staff. Two in 10 associations reported employee layoffs (or reductions in salary and hours), while 12 percent furloughed staff.

In response to the effects of COVID, associations have been more innovative with membership renewals to assist members. For example, many associations offer hardship accommodations for members during renewal season. Many associations also extended their grace period to members during COVID. Three years ago, a quarter of associations did not offer a grace period; today, most do.

More than three in 10 associations offered members installment payment options and automatic annual credit card renewal options. In a year where many industries saw a significant shift in their workforce from the office to a home-based workspace, mailed renewal notices may have yet to be opened in office mailboxes. Associations that offered installment dues payments and auto credit card renewals were more likely to see increases in their renewals than those groups that did not.

Evaluating Your Association Membership Renewal Process

Remember a couple of things as you evaluate and adjust your renewal process. First, don’t look at the renewal as just an invoicing process. The process needs to be intentional, with realistic goals and steps to inform and demonstrate the value of your association’s offering. Start by identifying what criteria are most important to your association and does it correlate to what members are looking for. Set the criteria and then reverse engineer your renewal process.

For example, list five membership criteria that are most important to your association. Then, ask yourself the following questions to see if it aligns with your association’s standards:

  • What was your renewal goal last year, and what was the result?
  • Did you meet your dues (financial) goal?
  • Is there an incentive program or discount for members who pay early and in full?
  • What is the plan if members can’t pay their dues on a regular or annual schedule? Do you offer quarterly payments?

Your membership renewal criteria should match your renewal message.

Clear Member Renewal Messaging

Associations often cram too many elements into their renewal messaging, whether letters, emails, or even social media. It’s easy to do when you only want to pay our invoice. Within the renewal text, you feel obligated to create an exhaustive list of legislative accomplishments and mention the upcoming annual meeting. Stick to the point. You want members to do one thing and one thing only—renew their membership.

Make the renewal message as personal as possible. What would you say if you could meet members face-to-face with your invoice? “Hey, we’re working on these three initiatives next year on behalf of your company, but we cannot be successful without you and your investment in XYZ Association. Please renew as soon as possible.”

Beware of renewal letters being passed to different association departments, ending up bland and becoming a menu of items. Nothing will make a personal message blander than edits from various departments. Trust one or two people to make edits, that’s all. 

Finally, make it short. Remember, you want members to act on the renewal letter sooner rather than later. Lengthy communication undermines a person’s ability to “act now and pay immediately.” The longer the letter is, the more likely the recipient will pass it along to other people in the company for consideration by asking, “What do we think of these issues? Should we renew our membership this year?” The renewal situation is going nowhere fast for your association.


Be sure to read Part II of our Thinking Differently About Membership Renewals: Modernization.

If you would like more insight into how to construct a solid association member renewal process, we invite you to partner with us and see what positive change can happen. We’re here to help.


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